UNITED NATIONS: Beyond the Illusion of Security Council Reform

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By Ramesh Jaura

Some nine months after President Barack Obama backed India for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, he may spring a surprise at the General Assembly opening session in September 2011 that would initiate a process paving the way for the promise becoming a reality.

Addressing both Houses of the Indian Parliament on November 8, 2010 in New Delhi, Obama said: The just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate. . . . That is why I can say today -- in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.

The need for a reformed Security Council is rather compelling not only because the global balance of economic and robust military power is undergoing a profound change. Also the thrust of the desire of the G4 (Brazil, Germany, India and Japan) to be on par with the P5 that include Russia, Britain, France and China is so dominant that the U.S. as the sole superpower can ill afford to block it.

The gyrations in the Arab world are confronting the international community with a situation that the P5 alone cannot master. While the three western powers of the P5 led by the U.S. are being forced by the unexpected revolution under way, particularly in Egypt, to undergo apprenticeship training in exerting soft power, the G4 by virtue of their respective historical experiences are invariably in a position to play a significant role in bringing about a paradigm shit.

The need for a paradigm shift was underlined on March 21, 2005, by the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called on the UN to reach a consensus on expanding the council to 24 members, in a plan referred to as In Larger Freedom.

He gave two alternatives for implementation, but did not specify which proposal he preferred. In any case, Annan favoured making the decision quickly, stating: This important issue has been discussed for too long. I believe member states should agree to take a decision on it -- preferably by consensus, but in any case before the summit -- use of one or other of the options presented in the report of the High-Level Panel.

The two options mentioned by Annan are referred to as Plan A and Plan B:
- Plan A calls for creating six new permanent members, plus three new non-permanent members for a total of 24 seats in the Council.
- Plan B calls for creating eight new seats in a new class of members, who would serve for four years, subject to renewal, plus one non-permanent seat, also for a total of 24.

The summit mentioned by Annan is the September 2005 Millennium+5 Summit, a high level plenary meeting that reviewed Annans report, the implementation of the 2000 Millennium Declaration, and other UN reform-related issues.

Irrespective of some of the considerations, the authors of the Special Report of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) are urging Obama to use a high-profile public speech, such as at the UNGA opening session in September 2011, to declare U.S. openness to a modest expansion of the UNSC contingent on demonstrated evidence of aspirants’ capacity and willingness to contribute to international peace and security.

The authors of the report Kara C. McDonald and Stewart M. Patrick say: After initial consultations and agreement with P5 partners by the United States, the presidents speech should outline the road map and criteria for this UNSC enlargement, and serve as a launching pad for U.S. consultations with aspirant countries on initiatives that will help them demonstrate the qualifications for permanent membership. Such initiatives might include demonstrating leadership in nonproliferation talks, climate change negotiations, or the advancement of human rights.

Kara C. McDonald is a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State, and currently serves as the U.S. deputy special coordinator for Haiti. McDonald was an international affairs fellow from 2009 to 2010 and director for United Nations and international operations at the National Security Council from 2007 to 2009.

Stewart M. Patrick is senior fellow and director of the International Institutions and Global Governance program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

CFR president Richard N. Haass explains in a foreword to Special Report the crux of the logic: The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) remains an important source of legitimacy for international action. Yet despite dramatic changes in the international system over the past forty-five years, the composition of the UNSC has remained unaltered since 1965, and there are many who question how long its legitimacy will last without additional members that reflect twenty-first-century realities.

The UN Charter, as amended in 1965, creates a 15-member council -- ten of which are elected keeping the regional balance in mind -- with the authority to impose binding decisions on all UN member states.

A part of the reality, according to Haass is: There is little agreement . . . as to which countries should accede to the Security Council or even by what formula aspirants should be judged. Reform advocates frequently call for equal representation for various regions of the world, but local competitors like India and Pakistan or Mexico and Brazil are unlikely to reach a compromise solution. Moreover, the UN Charter prescribes that regional parity should be, at most, a secondary issue; the ability to advocate and defend international peace and security should, it says, be the primary concern.

Haass rightly points out that the U.S. has remained largely silent as this debate has intensified over the past decade, choosing to voice general support for expansion without committing to specifics. President Barack Obamas recent call for India to become a permanent member of the Security Council was a notable exception, he avers.

Haass sums up the argument of the report: American reticence is ultimately unwise. Rather than merely observing the discussions on this issue, they believe that the United States should take the lead. To do so, they advocate a criteria-based process that will gauge aspirant countries on a variety of measures, including political stability, the capacity and willingness to act in defense of international security, the ability to negotiate and implement sometimes unpopular agreements, and the institutional wherewithal to participate in a demanding UNSC agenda.

The authors further advise that this process be initiated and implemented with early and regular input from the U.S. Congress; detailed advice from relevant Executive agencies as to which countries should be considered and on what basis; careful, private negotiations in aspirant capitals; and the interim use of alternate multilateral forums such as the Group of Twenty (G20) to satisfy countries’ immediate demands for broader participation and to produce evidence about their willingness and ability to participate constructively in the international system.

However, the authors fault in that they plead for a multilayered process of consultation in which Washington and other P5 members do not abandon taking the lead. The need of the hour is for the P5 entering into an interactive relationship with aspirants to permanent Security Council membership to wipe out all traces of the still dominant culture of deriving power out of the barrels of guns.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in November 2010: A clear and widespread deficit of democratic oversight and accountability exists across the entire nuclear weapon life cycle, even in open and democratic societies. . . .While the management of most countries nuclear arsenal has evolved to include a wider range of democratic mechanisms, secrecy prevails.

With a special emphasis on civilian control and democratic accountability, the SIPRI report titled Governing the Bomb illuminates the structures and processes of nuclear weapon governance of eight nuclear-armed states -- the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China as well as Israel, India and Pakistan.

While the USA is the most advanced in terms of democratic oversight and accountability, it still keeps much secret and outside of oversight, states Bates Gill, SIPRI director. It is also interesting to note that in other democracies, such as India, Israel and Pakistan, nuclear weapon issues are highly guarded secrets, with the Israeli case being perhaps the most extreme of the three.

The findings further demonstrate that whether a given nuclear weapon state is democratic, quasi-authoritarian or a dictatorship does not determine the decisions it will take regarding non-proliferation, disarmament or a potential use of its nuclear weapons.

This is of particular significance in regard to the controversy about Irans nuclear ambitions.

The SIPRI case studies show the need to look beyond who is pushing the button and clarify the roles and responsibilities of all institutions and actors involved in nuclear weapon governance: the core security actors, the executive, the legislature, the judiciary and civil society.

The nuclear issue occupies a central position in debates about the reform of the Security Council, particularly as the P5 build the official nuclear club which feels encroached upon by India, Israel and Pakistan -- countries that are believed to be in possession of a destructive nuclear capacity.

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External links: http://www.cfr.org http://www.sipri.org

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